Cat Five Houses offer new way to build homes that stand through hurricane

Builders work on a tiny house by Cat Five Houses of Charleston on Oct. 15 in Summerville.

Homeowners in the Lowcountry are used to living with a fair amount of anxiety throughout hurricane season but Geoff Hawes said it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of worry, he said it’s possible for homeowners to have peace of mind in the event that another major hurricane hits the South Carolina coast. He builds hurricane-resistant house frames that can stand through a number of natural disasters.

They’re called Cat Five Houses of Charleston. Instead of wood, their bones are made from a patented aluminum frame system designed and engineered to endure winds over 157 miles per hour. They’re rated to an eight on the Richter scale for earthquake resistance.

Hawes said the difference between Cat Five Houses and “hurricane-resistant” houses on the market is that these can be customized to a homeowners own particular style. Only the frame is different, all other architecture aspects can be completely personalized. Once a home is fully assembled, nobody could see a difference.

The structure was invented by Hawes’ father, who comes from England where buildings are made from steel. Cat Five Houses are also an offshoot of Hawes’ company, Rapid Deployable Systems, Inc. which manufactures temperature and humidity controlled environmental enclosures used on Navy ships. They also make truss tables, platforms and roof systems and have done work for other companies including Boeing, Bayers and Intel.

So far Hawes has made three Cat Five home frames in the Lowcountry but he said his goal is to offer people a better solution than traditional wood frames. He’s currently building the first Cat Five Tiny House in Summerville. The home located on Shamrock Drive will be for a relative but will also serve as a model design.

“They’re (aluminum frames) immensely strong, they’re durable, they’re long lasting, they’re not affected by the conditions,” Hawes said.

Aluminum frames are more expensive than traditional wooden ones so Hawes said the tiny houses make sense for a consumer’s budget.

He’s also big fan of the energy saving aspect of tiny houses. Ideally he wants to add solar panels to the roofs of all the Cat Five tiny houses they build. He sees a lot of potential in the tiny house culture.

“We eventually want to build a tiny village and being English, I want a tiny pub right in the middle of it and maybe a tiny cricket ground,” Hawes’ said with a laugh.

He’s working closely with a builder to keep the house within local building code guidelines.

Cat Five homes are assembled in a different order than a typical home and the tiny sized houses have characteristics that don’t always match up with the usual building codes. But the process has all been manageable and eye opening for both residents and town building code inspectors.

“We make all of this framework in Hanahan, we specifically make door frames and window frames, all screwed and bolted into structure,” Hawes said.

The same structural engineer who works on their RDS systems also tests these Cat Five frames.

“Each one is stamped by him as an engineer saying it will withstand 157 miles per hour as long as we build this particular way,” Hawes said.

Hawes said Cat Five houses require a different mindset, homeowners just aren’t familiar with building a frame out of anything but wood so it’s hard to understand why aluminum frames make more sense.

“It’s new, it’s probably ahead of it’s game and even though these storms are hitting hard and houses are getting demolished, they’ll probably get rebuilt in a similar way,” Hawes said. “It’s just going to take time I think for this to take off.”